The ascomycete Verticillium longisporum is a hybrid and a plant pathogen with an expanded host range.
Hybridization plays a central role in plant evolution, but its overall importance in fungi is unknown. New plant pathogens are thought to arise by hybridization between formerly separated fungal species. Evolution of hybrid plant pathogens from non-pathogenic ancestors in the fungal-like protist Phytophthora has been demonstrated, but in fungi, the most important group of plant pathogens, there are few well-characterized examples of hybrids. We focused our attention on the hybrid and plant pathogen Verticillium longisporum, the causal agent of the Verticillium wilt disease in crucifer crops. In order to address questions related to the evolutionary origin of V. longisporum, we used phylogenetic analyses of seven nuclear loci and a dataset of 203 isolates of V. longisporum, V. dahliae and related species. We confirmed that V. longisporum was diploid, and originated three different times, involving four different lineages and three different parental species. All hybrids shared a common parent, species A1, that hybridized respectively with species D1, V. dahliae lineage D2 and V. dahliae lineage D3, to give rise to three different lineages of V. longisporum. Species A1 and species D1 constituted as yet unknown taxa. Verticillium longisporum likely originated recently, as each V. longisporum lineage was genetically homogenous, and comprised species A1 alleles that were identical across lineages.
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